February 21, 2013

By LARRY LAGE Associated Press

 

Charles Woodson is on the market.

The Green Bay Packers released the 36-year-old defensive back last Friday with two years left on his contract.

"We are grateful for all that Charles has given to the Green Bay Packers over the past seven years," general manager Ted Thompson said. "He has been an integral part of the Packers' success and our Super Bowl title in 2010 would not have been possible without his contributions. A once-in-a-generation talent as a player, he is also a great leader and ambassador for the organization off the field."

The Packers clear about $10 million in cap space by releasing Woodson. Carl Poston, Woodson's agent, said the veteran wasn't done yet.

"The Packers told Charles they're going in a different direction," Poston said. "Charles told me he still wants to play — for a Super Bowl contender."

Woodson signed a five-year deal before the 2010 season that was worth as much as $55 million. He missed nine games during the 2012 regular season because of a broken right collarbone and played in two postseason games for the Packers in his seventh year with the franchise.

"We had a good run," Woodson wrote to ESPNWisconsin.com in a text message.

Woodson was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him out of Michigan with the No. 4 overall pick.

He's the only player in NFL history with touchdowns off interceptions in six straight seasons, a feat he pulled off each year from 2006 to 2011, and leads the league with nine touchdowns off interceptions since 2006. He went to the Pro Bowl every year from 2008-11.

Woodson was productive for the Packers, but they have some tough decisions to make this offseason to manage the salary cap. Woodson had a year left on his lucrative deal and linebacker A.J. Hawk is under contract next year for a team that probably wants to give long-term deals to receiver James Jones, linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive tackle B.J. Raji because each of the relatively young standouts could potentially be free agents following next season.

Despite his age and recent injury, Woodson will likely be an in-demand free agent. He was injured last October, bounced back in time to defend two passes in the playoffs.

"Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," Hawk said in January. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well."

Woodson had a career-high nine interceptions in 2009 and picked off seven passes in 2011 and made one interception in seven games during last year's injury-shortened season.

The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner led Michigan to the 1997 national championship and has donated more than $2 million to the University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital, where he supports pediatric clinical research. With the Packers, he was a leader as one of the best players on the team and as a mentor to younger players.

"He's like a big brother to all of us," former Green Bay safety Nick Collins once said.

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February 21, 2013

By KRISTIE RIEKEN |

Associated Press

 

Michael Jordan turned 50 on Sunday, February 17 giving this year's All-Stars a chance to reflect on his illustrious career and how much he still means to the sport.

In a weekend filled with the NBA's greatest players, Jordan was the topic no one could stop talking about. Though he hasn't played since the 2002-03 season, Jordan's influence still permeates the league and its players.

"Every kid that wanted to play basketball, that could play, that couldn't play, you tried to emulate Michael Jordan," Heat star Dwyane Wade said. "That's why there will never be another one of him. He’s the first of his kind. Everything he did was groundbreaking. He did it with so much flare and so much pizazz that even today people are still trying to be like Mike."

Jordan won six titles and five MVP awards during a career spent mostly with the Bulls that began in 1984.

Jordan was in Houston this weekend, and celebrated his birthday early with a private bash on Friday February 15 at the Museum of Fine Arts with guests including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard is so impressed with Jordan that he said he's like a real version of Superman.

"Be Like Mike" was more than a marketing campaign. It was a dream for many of today's players.

"He's amazing," Howard said. "He's one of the reasons why we played basketball. He inspired us to do great things. I hear his voice sometimes on commercials, it makes you want to get out there and try to do something."

Jordan retired twice before finally leaving the game for good at age 39. Some people wondered this weekend if he could still play in the NBA, despite reaching the age where he qualifies for an AARP card.

Wade believes this day will be a time for Jordan to reflect on his storied career and appreciate his family and health.

"Kind of look back at all the things he did, so many years ago in the NBA that still live on today," Wade said. "What he's been able to do to stay this relevant, in this role, the way he has, is phenomenal."

Though he isn't seen often, Jordan is never far from the game. He is close to a group of players through his Jordan Brand apparel and as the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. He ignited one of the debates of the weekend when he told NBA TV he would chose Bryant over James based on the number of championships each has won.

"If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it, and not that (James) won't get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one," Jordan said in the interview, which aired Monday night.

Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks counts Jordan as one of the most influential in his decision to play basketball.

"He changed the game, transcended the game," Anthony said. "He changed the way people coached the game from a mental aspect. From a training aspect, how you approach that, he changed that. So for me as a kid to see that and see somebody go through that and succeed, that was motivation."

Jordan, who retired for the last time with more than 32,000 points, is perhaps known as much by the younger generation of stars for his namesake Nike shoe as for his basketball skills.

"The imprint he's had on the league, he's an immortal," Bryant said. "Everything that he's done from the business aspect to his professionalism to his work ethic to the global appeal of the game has been something that carries on for generations and generations."

Jordan didn't make himself available to the press during All-Star weekend. James said this week that he wasn't too concerned with the TV remarks.

"At the end of the day, rings don't always define someone's career," James said. "If that's the case, then I would sit up here and say that I would take (Bill) Russell over Jordan. I wouldn't. I wouldn't take Russell over Jordan, but Russell has 11 rings and Jordan has six. Or I'd take, I don't know, Robert Horry over Jordan. I wouldn't do that. But it's your own personal opinion."

"Patrick Ewing is one of the greatest of all time," he continued. "Reggie Miller is one of the greatest of all time. Sometimes, it's a situation that you're in, it's the team that you're in. It's about timing as well."

One of the most common sentiments echoed by players this week when talking about Jordan was disbelief that he was turning 50.

"Time actually flies," Bryant said. "Him turning 50, this will be my 17th year, my 15th All-Star Game. Where did the time go?"

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February 14, 2013

By PAUL ELIAS

Associated Press

 

A lawyer for Barry Bonds urged a federal appeals court on Wednesday to toss out the slugger’s obstruction of justice conviction, saying a rambling answer he gave while testifying before a grand jury was not a crime.

Appellate specialist Dennis Riordan argued that Bonds was not formally or specifically charged with the felony that he was convicted of committing. A federal jury in April 2011 found baseball’s all-time home runs leader guilty of obstruction for saying he was a “celebrity child” when asked about injecting steroids.

Prosecutors asked Bonds during his December 2003 grand jury appearance whether Greg Anderson, his personal trainer, ever gave him “anything that required a syringe to inject yourself with?”

Bonds referred to his father, former major leaguer Bobby Bonds, when he responded “that’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that — you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see ...”

That particular exchange wasn’t included in the indictment originally released in November 2007. The omission is “the dagger in the heart of this conviction,” Riordan argued.

Further, Riordan said that Bonds ultimately answered the question when put to him again and denied receiving any substance to inject.

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wondered aloud if Bonds’ direct denial undercut the government's argument that Bonds intentionally misled the grand jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Merry Jean Chan countered that the denial was a lie because Bonds’ former personal assistant, Cathy Hoskins, testified that she witnessed Anderson inject Bonds. Chan said Bonds’ denial and his other rambling answers to the same question throughout his grand jury appearance added up to obstruction.

“He answered the question falsely each time,” she said.

Bonds and his legal team are asking a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the lone felony conviction stemming from Bonds’ 2½ hours of testimony in December 2003 before a grand jury investigating performance enhancing drug use and sales among elite athletes. Bonds, who was rejected by voters last month in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, wasn’t required to attend Wednesday’s highly technical hearing, though Riordan said his client expressed a desired to watch the proceedings in person.

Riordan said outside court that he advised Bonds to watch from afar rather than personally attending the 35-minute session San Francisco. A local television station was given permission to show the hearing live and streamed at least a couple of segments on the Internet.

“His presence would have been a distraction,” Riordan said.

Legal experts who have followed the case closely since his grand jury appearance in December 2003 are divided over Bonds’ chances before Daly Hawkins and Judges Mary Schroeder and Mary Murguia, each of whom was appointed by a different Democrat president and all of whom are based in Phoenix, home of San Francisco’s division rival Diamond­backs and about a 20-minute drive from the Giants’ Scottsdale spring training facility.

One set of analysts argue that appellate courts are reluctant to overturn jury verdicts absent an overwhelmingly obvious mistake. They say that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, who ran the trial, is a respected jurist who has few of her cases overturned.

“There is a definite overriding respect of a jury’s verdict,” said Howard Wasserman, a Florida Inter­national University law professor. “Typically, it’s pretty hard to get a jury’s verdict reversed.”

On the other hand, there are those lawyers who argue that Bonds stands a good chance to clear his name.

“The government’s biggest hurdle is that testimony obstruction cases are usually based on blatant, undeniable lies to questions at the heart of an investigation,” said William Keane, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney. “Here the prosecution limps in with only a single rambling, unresponsive, unimportant answer that is literally true.”

Regardless of the outcome, University of New Hampshire law professor Michael McCann contends that the case was ultimately a loss of the U.S. Department of Justice. In a case that put a superstar athlete at the defendant’s table, the jury deadlocked on three charges of making false statements

“The main thrust of the government’s original case was that he lied when he denied taking steroids,” said McCann, who also edits the popular Sports Law Blog. “That’s not what he was convicted of. Obstruction was not the main charge.”

If Bonds’ conviction is upheld, he will have to serve 30 days house arrest.

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February 14, 2013

By Michael Dean

Special to the NNPA from Arizona Informant

 

Before there was Charlie Sifford, Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller or Lee Elder, there was John Brooks Dendy, the self-made golfer from North Carolina who made a name for himself in the 1930s.

Dendy grew up in Asheville and fell in love with the game of golf at an early age.  He had scuffled around and found some discarded club heads with no shafts. He whittled down broom sticks, fitted them in the heads and began playing whenever he could.  He also began caddying at Asheville Country Club and by his early teens had developed a game that was hard to beat.  Some of the members of the club took notice and quietly encouraged him.

At 18, Dendy had completed high school and was preparing to head to Paine College in Augusta, Ga. to play football.  Because of his golfing prowess, a few members of the country club extended Dendy the financial assistance to enter the Southern Open at Lincoln G &CC in Atlanta and to the chagrin of homegrown heroes Howard Wheeler and Hugh Smith, Dendy won.  During the awards ceremony, Dendy relinquished his amateur status and accepted the $50 prize money for first place.

Excited by his good fortune, his family encouraged him to compete in the 1932 United Golfer’s Association – Negro National Open in Indianapolis.  Dendy had never been that far away from home before and was only comfortable on the golf course.  The virtual unknown whipped his competitors with ease earning the trophy and the $100 prize money.

In the pre-tournament “Calcutta,” Dendy had been purchased for $400 and the bettor won big so he gave his man a $500 bonus for winning, five times the amount of the winner’s check.  On his long trip home, Dendy never slept for fear that someone may attempt to rob him. He would go on the win National Open in 1936 and successfully defended in 1937.  He also won the Southern Open again in 1934 and 1936 after breaking through in 1932.

One of the most legendary stories told about John Brooks Dendy occurred in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1933.  He had been invited to participate in an 18-hole exhibition and was pressed for time because the bus that he was on developed problems along the way.  He arrived at the course, went to the first tee, and without warming up, cut the dogleg with his drive on the 342 yard opening hole.  When he got to the green, he found his ball in the cup for a 1. He then played the next three holes 2-3-4, all of them birdies and finished the day with a score of 59.  The 1-2-3-4, six-under par start, made Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

By 1940, Dendy hadn’t made any headway financially playing golf, so he opted to take a job as a locker room attendant at Asheville CC and later worked at Biltmore Forest CC where he served until he retired in 1980.  He didn’t play much golf in his later years and died in 1985.  Throughout his storied career Dendy won 52 tournaments, including three National and three Southern Open Championships.  He was also a friend of heavyweight champion Joe Louis and the two often partnered successfully in money matches in Chicago and across the country.  “Lest’ We Forget.”

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February 14, 2013

Associated Press

 

USA Track & Field is hitting the road to try to take advantage of the passion of the millions of recreational runners in the country.

The governing body will hold a new national road race in the fall, open to both amateur and elite competitors. The 7½-mile event an­nounced Wednesday will have a combined $100,000 purse for the top men and women. Several thousand other entrants, with the demographics sponsors crave, will also take part.

The race is part of a three-year deal between USATF and Neustar, an information services company. It will be called the .US National Road Racing Championships in reference to Neustar’s .US domain name.

The date, location and course will be announced in the next few weeks. The unusual 12-kilometer distance was chosen because it's in the middle between 5K events and marathons — and for the simple fact that it is unique.

Marathons and other shorter events have become big business, attracting participants that many companies want to target.

“These are business owners; these are professionals,” Neustar senior vice president Alex Berry said. “These are folks that are college educated; they have advanced degrees.”

But USATF had been missing out — the governing body had never before fully owned-and-operated a road race. The deal with Neustar allows USATF to bring in new revenue and to market itself to amateur runners who may associate the organization only with competitions like the 100-meter dash, said CEO Max Siegel, who was hired in April.

USATF says the deal is its biggest single-event sponsorship in more than a decade.

“It has been a high priority of ours for people to make the connection between USA Track & Field, as an organization and a federation, to lifestyle running,” Siegel said. “So it’s been a challenge, but it’s something we’re aware of and addressing in a very deliberate way.”

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